Vanuatu’s traditional architecture makes a community more resilient in the face of climate change-related disasters

In March 2015, the island of Vanuatu was hit hard by Tropical Cyclone Pam, the second most powerful tropical cyclone ever recorded in the south Pacific Ocean in terms of sustained winds, and one of the worst natural disasters in Vanuatu’s history. Thousands of people were displaced and numerous homes, schools and businesses were destroyed. Yet something surprising emerged in the wake of the disaster. During a government-led Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) conducted with the support of UNESCO, the European Union, the World Bank and others, traditional knowledge, and particularly traditional building techniques, emerged as a key factor in Vanuatu’s resilience to the disaster. More specifically, it was discovered that the island’s traditional nakamal buildings that were constructed with modern materials and techniques were much more affected by the cyclone than nakamals constructed using local materials and traditional building skills.

As climate change results in more extreme weather events, traditional knowledge can be a vital means of promoting the resilience of communities to natural disasters. The role of the nakamals in promoting community resilience was the subject of the UNESCO report “Safeguarding indigenous architecture in Vanuatu” published in 2017.

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